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Good governance

[Is democracy good governance? What does this mean in theory and practice? What are its
failings?]
K. Laxminarayana Rao
Consultant, Bangalore, India

Preamble:

Good governance is an indeterminate term often used to describe how


public institutions conduct public affairs and manage public resources in
order to guarantee the realization of human rights. Governance describes
the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are
implemented (or not implemented). The term governance applies to
corporate, international, national, local governance or to the interactions
between other sectors of society. The concept of "good governance" often
emerges as a model to compare ineffective economies or political bodies
with viable economies and political bodies, which, in the contemporary
world, are most often liberal democratic states. Thus the term, though it
seems to be something that could be objectively defined, is often very
nebulous, defined in ways that are advantageous or in alignment with the
agendas of aid organizations or authorities of developed countries.

Because concepts such as civil society, decentralization, peaceful conflict


management and accountability are used when defining the concept of good
governance, good governance's definition promotes many ideas that closely
align with effective democratic governance. Therefore, emphasis on good
governance can sometimes be equated with promoting democratic
government.

Is democracy good Governance?

In many democracies it is a number game and the majority rules. The


majority in a democracy means the majority in terms of number of seats
obtained by a contesting party or group in the parliament. Now the question
is, can a government formed in such a process provide good governance? To
find an answer let us examine how the democracy is working today in many
democratic countries.

• Participating population in an election to form a government itself is a


population created artificially. In general all adults with age +18 form
the electorate in a democracy. Age for entry to school is generally 5
and by at least 8 years of age one learns to read, write and speak
properly. At the same time there is a chunk of population do not even
know to write or read and even speak a good language. Some such
people even may not be able to judge what is good for them and their
families and future offspring’s, but are part of the electorate just
because they are above 18 years of age.
• Candidates contesting the elections and aspiring to become people’s
representatives and form the government are not democratically
chosen by the contesting parties.

A large number of Candidates are chosen based on his intimacy with


party superior and the influence of the candidate, his financial
background and his winning chances by adopting whatever method,
his ability to use all sorts of methods to win the elections. Dynastic
rules are thus returning in the name of democracy. In many cases
there is no inner party democracy and the parties are controlled by
individuals and their family members.

• A stringent election Code of Conduct came into force in January


1991 in India. However, during the last 20 years, although more than
8,000 cases were filed in a single state; neither the Election
Commission (EC) nor any returning officer in the state has been able to
bring even a single case to its logical conclusion. According to the
Election Commission's records, during the last Lok Sabha polls, 475
cases were registered in a particular state for violation of the Code.
However, progress has been made on no more than 12 cases so far.
Prima facie, it appears that the code is being used to create an
atmosphere of fear among candidates and party activists.” The
Commission has set a limit for expenditure for the Lok Sabha and
assembly polls. However crores of rupees are spent on the polls by
every candidate.
• Adult (15 years and above) literacy rate in India is 66% Youth
Literacy rate is 82%. More than ¾ of countries male population and
more than and more than ½ the female population of the country are
literates (Literates are supposed to be those who can with
understanding both read and write a short simple statement relevant
to his everyday life). Majority of the electorate would not know what
they need to expect from the candidate for whom they vote or from
the government.

• While there is a qualification norm, entry and exit age norm for every
job in a government department or organization, there is no such
restriction for candidates contesting elections. Citizen’s duties do not
compel any one to take the role in a government. While constitutions
prescribe rights of citizens, duties even when prescribed do not compel
even a capable person to contest the elections. Over a period of time
the government in a country has become the personal property of
handful of people whose families become dynasties born to rule the
country.
• The elections have become close ended questionnaire with limited
options to choose and people who are honest, trustworthy, human and
capable are sidelined by the modern business tactics and are omitted
in the options provided and the elections are conducted for the
purpose of forcing a decision provided in the close ended questionnaire
on the citizens. While a Voter can record if doesn’t like any of the
contesting candidates, it just ends there without providing an
alternative.
• Voting is not compulsory as can be seen from the recent example
(2009) of Indian Parliament Election, where out of 710074177 eligible
voters (61.75% of total population of 1,147,995,904) only 414913023
(58.43%) had cast their votes in the 2009 Parliament elections. The
present electoral norms allow only 61.75% of the total population
eligible to vote. Only 36.40% of the total population actually voted
during the elections of which a group which got support from about
17.62% (INC + NCP + 50% of the others) of the population is ruling the
country at present (see table below)

No of seats % vote got in % votes got % of population


Party won poled votes among represented
eligible voters
Indian National 206 28.55 16.68 10.30
Congress (INC)
BJP 116 18.80 11.56 7.14
BSP 21 6.17 3.61 2.23
CPM 16 5.33 3.11 1.92
NCP 9 2.04 1.18 0.72
CPI 4 1.43 0.83 0.51
RJD 4 1.27 0.73 0.45
Others 167 36.41 21.26 13.13
Total 543 100.00 58.96 36.40

The minimum age of eligible voters in India is 18 years. This means Adult
above 18 years of age has to take decisions on behalf of the future citizens
since they are not mature enough to decide about their future. If this is so,
how can an illiterate or immature adult can take decision for himself just
because he is above 18 years. If for every job in government there is an age
restriction and prescribed qualification to ensure the candidate selected for
the job is able to perform the duties prescribed for the position, how a person
can becomes capable of running a government even when he is in his
deathbed. If the age restriction in Job is for giving way for younger
generation then why in Government we don’t think of making way for
younger generation. Why cannot we bring in restrictions on total number of
years one can represent the citizens in the parliament so that a large
number among the best of the eligible voters get a chance to participate in
Government and? To participate in government should also form duty of a
citizen if he is able and qualified. There should not be any remuneration for
elected representatives. They should live a simple life and in small houses
like other average citizens.

Thus unless the entire population (baring children below 15 years) with
additional votes for parents on behalf of their children is forced to participate
in the decision making process (Voting and Contesting elections) and a
congenial atmosphere is available to take decisions freely, democracies
cannot provide good governance. There should be a norm for a person to
contest elections and number of times he can contest (3 times in a life span)
and also represent in Parliament (thrice and maximum of 10-15 years in life
time)

Even in a democracy we need to have only 2 or 3 parties or a party less


system and the Government once formed should provide governance to its
full term. Democracy should mean compromise, give and take,
broadmindedness with an ultimate objective of Socio economic development
and bring in reforms and equity for the benefit of the society as a whole.

Present day democracy in theory and practice?

Present day democratic governments have four tier systems under the guise
of decentralization of power and providing opportunity to rule/ administer, to
people at the grassroots level to the extent feasible and possible. These are
Village (Group of Villages) Panchayat, Zilla (District) Panchayat, State
Assemblies and National Parliament. In addition there are Municipalities,
Corporations for towns and large cities within the Panchayat. The system
hopes to take governance to the grass root level, so called Ramarajya and
peoples rule in theory.

In practice every person once elected would like to continue as an elected


representative throughout his entire life. He has better chance of getting a
party ticket because he is experienced in running the Government and would
have gained financial capability while in office for spending in the elections
not only for himself but also for the party as a whole. His family members
would have become influential in the government as well as in the party and
slowly the whole family starts controlling the party. If by chance he does not
get a ticket for contesting in subsequent elections he would float a new party
controlled by him and his family members utilizing the wealth he would have
accumulated while in office. The result is there will be a large number of
parties contesting elections splitting the votes and resulting in hung
parliaments followed by governments formed by group of parties, who will be
fighting against each other after formation of the government to get control
of lucrative government portfolios. Every representative in the group is being
accommodated either as a Minister or head of a public sector with ministerial
rank or a member / chairman of a committee of the parliament. Elected
representatives will be busy approving their own remuneration and perks
rather than concentrating on policy formulation and economic and
development issues. Elected representatives would like to publicize every
work government does by spending tax payers money on functions where
they would project their own image. Elected representatives would like to
have all development funds to be routed through them or have a special
fund in their name for spending in their respective constituencies. They
ensure that their name with photo appears on each and every publicity
material. Streets are name after them; their names have to appear on every
signboard to show that they are the sitting representatives and it is because
of their effort the development in the area is taking place. Roads are
surfaced and every street light starts illuminating just before every election.
Promises will start flowing without knowing the implications and availability
of funds just before any election. When a person / party wins he will say
people has given a mandate to him and his party to continue whatever he
and his party was doing and when he loses an election they will say they
respect people’s verdict start blaming the party leaders and not their
performance earlier and try to change leadership. Horse trading is very
common when there is no clear cut verdict in an election and is the order of
the day. There is no rule or law to prevent such things.

Thus in practice we have many palegars, mandalik, small and big kings and
dynasties of ester year once again in place trying to rule the innocent people
in the name of democracy.

Democracies failings:

• Government needs funds to run the government for providing


basic needs of health, education, infrastructure for economic
development, shelter and clothing, bring in equity among all
sections. Funds are raised by taxing the citizens. We have
innumerable number of taxation methods which has resulted in
creating unproductive employment and promotional
opportunity in Government sector and created a number of
positions for the elected representatives to occupy and enjoy
life. We have examples of people who do not know the basic
math and economics occupying position as chairman’s of
financial Institutions and infrastructure development agencies
or transport corporations and Civil servants, MBA’s and
Engineers working under them. We have examples of Civil
servants who could not get in to science streams during their
high school education heading Chemical companies, just
because they are civil servants. Why our public sector is ailing
and becoming Sick? Complicate taxation system and several
forms of taxation has only created artificial business
opportunities for legal, tax and account experts and
unproductive employment and increase in expenses. It has
failed to plug loop holes in the system leading to drainage.

• PPP (Public-Private-Partnership) mode is the new Slogan world


over now. Public is slow and inefficient – Private is fast and
efficient. So it is the partnership between slow and fast on one
side and efficient and inefficient on another side. Earlier the
first ‘P’ used to plan, design estimate and then invite a private
to execute through an elaborate tendering process. First ‘P’
used monitor, evaluate and inspect the quality of works and
then make payments to the second ‘P’. Under the new Avatar
of PPP mode the first ‘P’ selects the second ‘P’ after planning a
work depending upon the expertise required for executing the
work and the financial capability of the second ‘P’ through
again an elaborate process inviting RFP/Expression of Interest/
Evaluation of offers/ Negotiation to improve the offers etc and
sometimes a special purpose vehicle is formed (A new Avatar
of ‘P’ or new Avatar of the old Joint Sector). Second ‘P’ is
allowed to collect fees from the user of the project who is
general public. Thus PPP is nothing but a Government within
the Government. Best example is Roads constructed under PPP
mode. General public pays excise duty and sales tax on
vehicles (generally 20-30% of price of vehicle) and Fuel used
(generally 35-40% of fuel price) to run the vehicles in addition
to a Life time Road tax (generally 10-15% of vehicle price).
When a Road is constructed under PPP mode he has to pay
again a Toll to the second ‘P’ for using the road. In the present
system every 30-50 km stretch is give to an independent
“private party” as a result when you travel a distance of 200
Km you will have to stop 4 -5 times to pay the toll. The result is
time saved in the road is wasted while waiting to pay the tolls.
Fuel saved in the road (because of uninterrupted movement at
optimum-constant speed) is wasted in idle running at the tolls.
No doubt the government can utilize the money collected
through taxes for other purposes. But then cost of
transportation of goods will now increase. Democracy has
invented this system burdening the citizens.

• Democracy was not able to provide any relief to the citizens


for preventing dynastic rules or elected representatives
behaving like masters and treating citizens as their
servants/slaves, once they are elected. Under the guise of
democracy we see every where division of this land is taking
place. New blocks/taluks/District and States are being created
within a country in the name of providing good governance.
When natural Resources are dwindling, population is
increasing how such divisions help people is a question not
answered / proved by even great economists satisfactorily. As
a lay man I can tell when a district is divided in to two
districts, both capital and recurring expenses increases,
peoples spending also increases. Each district requires
infrastructure to house Government machinery leading to
capital expenditure. More unproductive jobs are created
increasing recurring expenses. Since the facility is created
people can now have more litigations and the seat of justices
is now nearer to them. They can meet Officials more often than
before for grievance reprisal. This is now spreading and
countries are divided now, since certain regions are neglected

• A large majority of the people who form the rulers in any


democracy are Lawyers. The result we have more laws which
give business to lawyers and more promotional opportunity to
Judges. In India it is reported that there are 280 million cases
pending in subordinate courts at present. Government is now
thinking of creating village courts. Since the courts are so near
now more people will come up with litigations since they can
go to court for settlement at their doorstep. What is required
to speed up the legal process is cleaning of our legal
procedures and systems. As long as legal experts are deciding
on such issues this problem will never get solved because of
vested interest. Democracy in the present form has failed in
tackling this issue. Every citizen who has gone to court knows
why there is delay and he is left out on deciding this issue.

• Democracy in the present for has also failed in Foreign policy


front; the reason being opposition is divided because of a large
number of parties and not able to help government shape a
good foreign policy. Even the Ruling party is also a coalition of
number of parties and fighting to take its flock together in
such issues. Last Government in India had to make
readjustments in its group at the for the sake of Foreign policy
and the government itself was under threat of losing power.

Democracy with limited freedom also may not be an answer to the


present problems facing the democratic nations. Limited freedom to
citizens may lead to under development and prevent reducing the
gap between rich and poor and bring in equity on all fronts.
Prescribing qualifications for candidates as well as electorate,
encouraging NGO’s in the field of education and Politics, total
prevention of election spending by the candidates, reducing the
days allowed for campaigning by the candidates to just 2-3 days,
100% transparency and electronic voting and online voting system
may help Democracies.

The leader in a democracy should be chosen by the elected representatives


through open voting and should not be decided by few people controlling the
party. Once chosen the leader should be replaced only by a vote within the
parliamentary party with at least 2/3 vote and can be replaced only when he
had adequate time to show his capability that is at least 2 years not before
that. MLA’s / MP’s cannot change the party once they are elected through a
party symbol and if they do so they will have to lose their membership and
cannot contest the election immediately and there should be a gap of at
least 2 years. No bye election should be held for vacant seats. People
contesting should pass a medical Board examination for fitness. People
contesting elections should pass a test to be conducted by UPSC. People
chosen for ministerial births should pass additional examinations.

We have seen in the past MLA’s / MP’s holding positions like


ministers for health, mining, petroleum education, science and
technology, Railways, IT-BT, etc and conducting durbars without any
knowledge in these fields. It looks as though even a dog can rule if
powers are given. What does this mean? So is the case with civil
servants today. A person who could not get seat for science stream
in college passes IAS and becomes Secretary for petroleum,
Environment, IT-BT, health and education department and harasses
the technical people in these departments. The technical people
always say briefing the babus not trying to educate him on issues in
which he is worse than a layman. In many countries it is this kind of
governance that is hindering the development and growth.